I storm into the apartment and slam the door behind me. I am absolutely furious. How can Robert do this to me? How can he just simply pass me over for that promotion? I had worked my ass off ever since I came to Orlando, and it was all for nothing.
I collapse onto the couch and grab the remote control. As I turn on the large screen TV, I begin to think over the dayís events. Nothing, absolutely nothing is going to make me feel better. My day couldnít possibly get any worse.
"Hey! Iím home!" I stand corrected. I look up to see my overly-cheerful roommate Loreena bounce into the apartment. Her cinnamon-colored curls bounce with her.
"Hey, Lor," I grumble as I flip past Carson and his perfectly-chiseled jaw line.
"Hey, whatís wrong?" Her perky demeanor falls a little as she approaches me. I can hear her set down her school bag as she sits down next to me.
"I hate 106.7," I state. My eyes never leave the TV.
"Oh, no. What happened?" There is genuine concern in her voice and Iím thankful for it. Sure, I get annoyed with her eternal happiness, but Loreena is generally a sweet person. She looks so fragile that Iím amazed that she can handle her high school freshmen. Of course, she doesnít work with a very rough crowd at Windermere Prep.
Iím not one to open up very easily so I stay quiet for a few more minutes. Part of me is hoping that my roommate will go away. I know better than this, though. Loreena wonít leave until she finds out whatís bothering me. Finally, I turn off the TV and look at her. Before I know it, Iím spilling my guts.
"Robert McCann is an asshole," I begin. "Today was the day that he was going to pick the new morning DJ. Since Iíve been working with Ace ever since I started, I thought it was natural that I get the job. Apparently, it doesnít work like that. He completely glossed over me and gave it to the intern. The intern! Can you believe it?"
Loreena looks down. "Iím sorry. I wish there was something I could do."
"Me, too, but I guess Iím back at square one."
"Any idea why he didnít choose you?"
I shrug. "None. I asked him about it, and he said that weíd talk later. Personally, I think itís because I wouldnít give him any."
We sit in silence for a few minutes, then Loreena smiles. "I know itís not a radio show or anything, but I think I may have something that will cheer you up."
I raise my eyebrow. "Oh, really?"
"Yeah. One of my colleagues is holding a party for some people that her husband works with. Sheís inviting everyone in her community and several of the people that she works with. Anyway, she invited me and said that I could bring my roommate."
I turn to look at her, sarcasm dripping from my expression. "And this is suppose to cheer me up?"
She smiles, and her mischievous side comes out. "You havenít heard the best part. Itís at the Innisfree Country Club."
"No way!" My jaw hits the floor. "Do you mean to tell me that we are going to get into Innisfree? Do you know how long I have wanted to get into Innisfree?"
She nods. "Yes, youíve wanted to ever since we thought that AJ McLean lived there."
I scoff. "Oh, that was just some college fantasy; I am completely over him. Now itís more about seeing if I can actually get in there."
Loreena waves the invitations in front of my face. "Come on, Marti. Weíve never done anything like this. Letís go for the adventure of it. I know you still have that dress you wore at your cousinís wedding."
I smile as I remember the knee-length, red, sequined dress with the slit up the side. Loreena and I smile at each other; each of us knowing what the other is thinking. If nothing else, I can pretend that Iím rich for a night. "Okay. When is it?"
"Tonight at seven. This is gonna be great." Loreena glances at the clock and hops off the couch. "Wow! Itís already five? Iím gonna start getting ready. How about you?"
"Iíll give myself a few more minutes. You know it takes me half the time it takes you."
"True. I just have one suggestion. Please wear your hair down." With that, she disappears into her bedroom. I groan. If thereís anything I hate, itís wearing my long, heavy, dark hair down. I still canít understand what my roommateís fascination is with it. I settle back onto the couch and turn on the TV again.
True to my word, I am ready to go by 6:45, and, as a favor to my roomie, my black hair is falling past my shoulders. We each compliment the otherís dress, then we pile into my silver Expedition. My Expy is my pride and joy. She may only be a used car that my grandma found for half the price, but she still looks like sheís brand new.
We arrive at Innisfree and pull up to the gate. I groan when I see the guard. I remember this guy; he stopped me one time before. I put on my brightest smile and show him our invitations. He sneers at us, but he lets us through the gates anyway. As soon as weíre out of his sight, we stop the SUV and gasp. This place is more beautiful than I ever imagined. Oh, yes, one day, I am going to own a house here.
I start up the car again, and we find the country club. Swarms of elegantly-dressed people give their keys to a number of valets and climb the stairs into the country club. I can feel butterflies start to do a dance in my stomach. I glance over at Loreena and see that she looks nervous, too. We eventually get up our nerve, and I hand my keys to one of the valets. I begin to hand him a twenty, but he shakes his head.
"Itís free parking for the party tonight, maíam. Mr. And Mrs. Johnson have taken care of it," he announces as he climbs into the driverís seat.
"Okay. Thank you." I put my twenty back into my purse and look up at the Innisfree Country Club. In all of its grand glory, it reminds me of a plantation house. Loreena nudges my elbow, and we move forward.
Inside, it looks exactly like a grand ballroom. The floor is brown with an immaculate shine to it while a big, golden chandelier hangs above it. For a split second I feel like Iím in the ballroom scene of Cinderella. As we stand there looking around awkwardly, an older lady appears through the crowd and welcomes Loreena.
"Ms. Cameron, Iím so glad that you came. I didnít think I could stand another minute talking to Jamesís colleagues." She then turns her kind, blue eyes to me. "And who is this beautiful young woman?"
Loreena smiles. "This is my roommate, Martina Summers. Martina, this is one of my colleagues Cora Johnson."
I shake her hand and smile. "Hello, itís nice to meet you."
"Oh, the pleasure is all mine. Come on, girls, let me introduce you to some people." We follow Mrs. Johnson down the grand staircase and into the heart of the dining room. As we walk through the crowd, Mrs. Johnson introduces us to various people. Eventually, she and Loreena find another colleague of theirs, and the three of them strike up a conversation.
I tap Loreena on the shoulder. "Iím going to go look around. If we get separated, meet me at the entrance, okay?"
She looks worried. "Are you sure? I donít want to be rude."
I grin. "Iím sure. Go, talk, have fun." I say good-bye and disappear into the crowd. I take a glass of white wine from a tray that one of the waiters is carrying and find a small table in the back . I sit down and survey the place. It feels just like my senior prom, only more expensive. I can almost smell the money in the room.
"Let me guess, youíre bored, too, right?" someone to my left says. I look up into a pair of familiar, soft, brown eyes and a broad smile. He looks like someone I know.
"Excuse me?" I ask.
He indicates the chair. "May I sit down?"
He sits down and looks around the ballroom. "I asked you if you were bored. I always get bored at functions like this."
"Oh." I look down at my wine glass. "Yeah. My roommate talked me into coming because one of the teachers she works with invited her. I just came because I wanted to get inside Innisfree."
He raises an eyebrow. Wait a minuteÖnow he really looks familiar. "Ah, I see. Why did you want to get inside our hallowed gates?"
I shrug. "Just to see if I could. By the way, my name is Martina Summers. Call me Marti." I hold out my hand. He takes it.
"Alexander McLean. Call me Alex."
My heart skips a beat, and I donít think I can keep the surprised look out of my eyes. Of course! Why didnít I recognize him? What a night this is turning out to be. First, I get into Innisfree; now, I am face to face with AJ McLean. He laughs at my surprise.
"I see you know who I am," he says.
I shift in my seat, determined not to turn into a gushing teenybopper. "Yeah, Iíve heard your music."
"Is that all?" he prods.
I give him a teasing half-grin. "Maybe Iíve seen your picture once or twice."
He leans closer to me, and I can smell his Joop. My whole body heats up at the prospect of him being so close. "Well, Iím flattered that youíve heard of me. I hope that wonít discourage you."
I look at him in confusion. "Discourage me? From what?"
"Accepting a dance with me."
I can feel myself blush and become thankful that he canít see it through my dark complexion. "Iíd love to dance with you." He offers his hand, and I take it. He leads me out onto the dance floor, and we begin to waltz. Neither one of us are very good at waltzing and before long, weíre laughing. Alex laughs so hard that he eventually steps on my feet. I swear, and we stop waltzing.
"Iím sorry," he apologizes. He then gives me a sweeping bow. "I suppose you expected better from me, huh?"
I laugh. "Yeah, I did, but Iím glad that you arenít perfect. If you were, then Iíd feel inferior."
We lock arms again. "Trust me, you are anything but inferior, Marti. In fact, youíre one of the most beautiful women Iíve ever met."
I give him a sly look. "Iím sure you say that to all the women."
He leans in close to me again. "Actually, no. Iím telling you the truth." He steps back, and I blush again. "Shall we go sit down?"
"I think weíd better before we wind up hurting ourselves."
We walk back to the table and chat for a little while. I eventually find myself telling him what had happened earlier in the day. He shakes his head in disbelief and offers his help. I refuse, saying that I should get the job all on my own. He shrugs and says that he is there if I need him. I smile and take the last sip of my wine. Noticing that my glass is empty, Alex stands up and offers to get me another one. I thank him, and he disappears into the crowd.
"Martina Summers? What are you doing here?" Still in my happy state, I look over towards the voice. My heart falls when I see my boss Robert McCann standing over me.
I narrow my eyes. "Hello, Mr. McCann. I could ask you the same thing."
He chuckles and sits down next to me. I have not invited him to join me so I slide a little further away. "Please, Marti, weíre not at the station. You can call me Robert."
"Yes, but I prefer to call you Mr. McCann. It keeps our relationship professional."
He sits back in his seat. "Oh, Marti, Marti, Marti. I donít understand this need you have for keeping our relationship personal." He leans forward and places his hand over mine. "Donít you realize that you are too beautiful to only be professional with?"
I glare at him. "Believe me, Mr. McCann, when I tell you that our relationship isÖ.strictlyÖ.professional."
He slides over to me and takes my other hand. His grip is so tight that I canít free myself. "Marti, do you really understand why I didnít give you that promotion? Youíre so beautiful and so talented, yet youíre not willing to work for it." A cruel smile plays on his lips. "Now, if you are willing to give me something in return, I might be able to work out something."
"Will you please let go of me? I wouldnít sleep with you if you were that last man on Earth," I state. I then punctuate it by spitting in his face.
He calmly wipes the spit off his face and grips my arm. "You know, I believe a dance would help you see things my way."
Robert drags me out onto the dance floor, and we begin to waltz. In the middle of all of these influential people, I am afraid to make a scene so I donít struggle. He leans towards my ear. "Look around you, Marti. I know how much you want to be a part of this. I know how you crave it. If you did things my way, all of this could be yours." His grip tightens, and I wince. "Come on, Marti. You know you want to give in."
He begins to crudely nibble on my ear, and I push against him. Although he is about fifty or so, Robertís body is pure muscle, and I canít move him. I can feel my anger begin to boil as he moves from my ear, down my neck, to the nape. I feel like everyone is watching me, and I begin to feel dirty. Finally, the feeling disgusts me so much that I stomp on his foot. He howls in pain, then tightens his grip even more. I shut my eyes and cry out in pain.
The sound of someone clearing his throat captures our attentions. I can feel Robertís grip loosen, and I slowly open my eyes. I look from him to the man in front of us. Alex is standing there holding a wine glass. A sly smile spreads across his face.
"Why, Mr. Robert McCann. I didnít expect you to be here. How are you? I see that youíve met my date, Martina Summers."
Robert straightens his dinner jacket and glares at Alex. Within a split second, he changes into the sweet, fatherly producer. "Why, Mr. McLean, what an honor it is to see you here! I didnít realize that you were seeing one of the members of my staff." He steps away from me and shakes Alexís hand.
The smile never leaves Alexís face. "I trust that you are taking good care of her there because Iím sure that you would never lash out at an employee." He steps closer to him. "Let me just say this right now, Mr. McCann. If you ever speak to her or any other of your female employees like that again, then I will personally see to it that you will never work in this state again." He steps back and smoothes down Robertís jacket again.
"Of course," Robert mumbles. "Well, Iíll be off. Lovely seeing you again, Marti."
"As always!" I call as he half-walks, half-runs away. Alex and I walk back to the table, and I have never been so happy to see anyone in my life.
"Thank you for helping me," I say as I sit down in the chair he holds out for me.
"No problem. I saw the way he was treating you. If he threatens you again, let me know, okay?" His eyes have a serious look in them.
He raises his wine glass to me. "Now, letís drink and be merry."
"All right." We touch wine glasses and each take a sip.